EARLY — Trailing by four runs heading into their final at-bat, the Early Lady Horns almost pulled off an unlikely comeback, but the rally ended between third base and home plate.

The Merkel Lady Badgers escaped with a 5-4 non-district victory Tuesday over the Lady Horns, whose offense didn’t catch fire until the bottom of the seventh inning.

Down 5-3 with runners on second and third base, Lily Reagan hit a ground ball to shortstop which was bobbled, allowing Reagan to safely reach first base and Parker Smith to score Early’s fourth run.

Ramsie Rodgers, who was at second base on the play, opted to break for the plate after rounding third. However, the ball did not drift too far away from the Merkel shortstop, who scooped and fired to the plate to record the final out of the contest.

“It was just a mental mistake,” said Early head coach Alfonso Chavez, whose team owns a 6-4 record. “We had discussed that if it went to the outfield go full blast all the way home and we’d take that chance. Unfortunately it was just a mental mistake, but very correctable, though.”

The bottom of the seventh began with Early in a 5-1 hole, but Ashley Burch singled off Merkel pitcher Karsen Sutterfield — who tossed a five-hitter with six strikeouts and four walks. With one out, Hunter Coffee drew a walk to put two runners on base.

Following a strikeout, Smith lashed her second double of the game to left field, plating Coffee and Libby Underwood, running for Burch. Rodgers then drew a walk, and both runners advanced a base on a double steal.

The Lady Horns had a chance to avoid such a large deficit heading into their final at-bat, as twice Early began innings with the first two batters reaching base. But the Lady Horns mustered just one run out of that scenario, which forced Chavez’s squad into catch up mode.

“That really hurt,” Chavez said of the bottom of the third and sixth innings. “We just didn’t produce at the plate. All we’ve been doing is hitting indoors, but the bats let us down today.”

In the bottom of the sixth, down 5-1, Smith led off with a double and Rodgers followed with a walk. But Sutterfield retired the next three Lady Horns in order.

Early scratched across the game’s first run in the bottom of the third as Shaunna Pinson reached on an error and Coffee followed by drawing a walk. With two outs, Reagan drew a walk and a wild pitch to the plate on ball four allowed Coffee to score, after Pinson had been retired on a fielder’s choice. The inning ended shortly after Coffee crossed the plate as Reagan was thrown out trying to advance to second base.

Merkel responded with two runs in the top of the fourth to grab a 2-1 edge. Karlee Hunt singled and Sutterfield walked then, with one out, Brooklyn Casper and Kameron Flores recorded back-to-back RBI singles off Early freshman pitcher MaKayla DeLeon, making just her second start of the year.

“MaKayla’s coming off an injury and she’s about 80 percent right now,” Chavez said of his pitcher who allowed eight hits, walked four, struck out eight and stranded seven. “She’ll come back around. We’re still working on some mechanics.”

The Lady Badgers tacked on three runs in the top of the sixth as Makayla Kincaid walked, Casper reached on an error and Flores drew a free pass to load the bases. Kylee Jones followed with a two-RBI single to left, then Rachel Craig delivered a two-out RBI single, that proved to be the game-winning hit.